“Sorry, it’s forbidden” yelled the reception lady at us, as we politely asked to see artists getting prepared for their 7pm peking opera show at Shang An theatre, near the Forbidden City.
Instead of booking 280 rmb tickets, we headed to the car park at the back of the theatre. Here, opera dancers were smoking one last cigarette and didn’t think for long before offering us an inside look. We quickly found ourselves ‘backstage’, both shy, delighted and excited to be among them for a few hours.
This well known “Peking Opera troupe of Hebei province” was set up in 1953. It had to stop during the Cultural Revolution because it was considered as “feudalistic” and “bourgeois”. It is now run by acclaimed artist Pei Yanling. Kung Fu kids call her “grandma”. This extravagant lady plays the leading role of “Xiang Jiuxiao”, a poet who struggles to keep political secrets away from the Emperor. Pei Yanling has been named “China’s cultural treasure” by the government. No wonder why she enjoys a personal servant, who follows her anywhere with a teapot. At this end of this “journey”, we have been generously invited to her training school in Hebei province. Stay tuned !